Top Things to See in Joshua Tree National Park
Many of you are familiar with the work of Dr. Seuss. He gave us classics such as The Cat in the Hat, Green Eggs and Ham and How the Grinch Stole Christmas. His work has been translated to more than 20 languages and converted to movies, plays, etc.
Dr. Seuss’s furry, playful and mischievous characters inhabit imaginary worlds created by the author. It has been said that if those characters would fit in any place on Earth, that place would be Joshua Tree National Park.
In a previous post, I wrote about the king of the Sonora Desert (at least, in the United States): the Saguaro cacti. Well, turns out the Mojave Desert has its own ruler and that is the Joshua Tree.
The tree-like yucca reminded Mormon settlers of Joshua, with his extended arms, leading the Israelites into the Promised Land. The particular name prevailed over time. The species thrives in the open grasslands of Queen Valley and Lost Horse Valley in Joshua Tree National Park. A dense Joshua tree forest also exists in the Mojave National Preserve.
Joshua trees can have many arms. Those arms twist and turn in many ways. Sometimes, the main trunk is the one that presents an odd curvature due to wind or water. Then, there are hundreds of them in the park open areas. It feels like an army of fluffy things is standing before you with all its weapons ready for battle.
In addition, the park stands out for the many boulders scattered throughout its extension. The Joshua trees seem to be playing hide and seek with the thousands of boulders (in all sorts of shapes and sizes).
The park is located about 130 miles from Los Angeles. If you get an early start, the main sights can be visited in a day. Driving the main park loops takes one to two hours. If you are willing to do some shorts walks, you can get a very good grasp of the principal features in five to six hours.
Here is a guide of the best spots to check out.
This one mile walk takes you to a rock-enclosed valley that once rumored to have been used by cattle rustlers. If you chose to do only one walk in the park, this is the one. I heard the rangers recommending this area to visitors over and over. There are interpretative signs which help you learn about the Mojave Desert flora and fauna.
This is another one mile walk that takes you to a water tank (hence the name dam) built by cattle ranchers. A cave and petroglyphs can be observed during the walk too. Plus, keep your eyes open since this is an ideal spot to observe bighorn sheep.
This is a big boulder with another small boulder hanging precariously from the top. It looks like the big rock is wearing a cap. I felt like the “cap” was going to fall at any moment.
The drive to this view passes through a valley densely populated with Joshua trees. Once at the top, the Coachella Valley, the Salton Sea, Mt. San Jacinto and Mt. San Gorgonio can be observed. Pollution is a problem in here (like in a lot of valleys where gases are enclosed). It is best to stop here during sunset or sunrise.
Saddle Rock and the Hall of Horrors
Saddle Rock is one of the most difficult climbs in the park. Some people have died trying to get to the top. My recommendation: observe it from afar.
Just in front of the infamous rock, you are going to find an area scattered with a big number of boulders. This is a favorite of those who love to climb (even without equipment). I observed several people at the top. And, yes, it looks like they free climbed.
This area has some of the biggest boulders in the park. It is another favorite area of climbers. Seems like it is easier to get to the top of the rocks without equipment in here.
Also, this is where you are going to find one of the most famous landmarks in the park: Juniper and Balanced Rock (at campground #17).
As the name implies, this rock looks like a skull. It can be accessed from a 1.7 mile trail starting at the Jumbo Rocks campground or, you can drive directly to the base.
This short walk can be accessed from the White Tank Campground. This has to be one of my favorite areas in the park. The natural arch is beautiful. The best views are from the rocks directly in front of the arch.
The area is full of rocks in interesting shapes and colors.
Cholla Cactus Garden
This is the place to see thousands of densely concentrated cholla cactus. I was excited about walking around here but had to return to the car since bees were very aggressive on the trail (I feared an allergic reaction).
The park has way more to offer. With the help of the “Official Newspaper” and the rangers in the visitor’s center you can visit the following:
- Cottonwood Spring
- Indian Cove
- Ryan Ranch
- Tour of Keys Ranch
- There are several moderate and challenging hikes in many of the park area.
What park feature you would like to visit? Have you been to Joshua Tree National Park?
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